Steely Dan Thursday, July 17, 2008 Red Rocks Better than: Singing alone in the rain.
After the Joey DeFrancesco trio warmed things up, the Steely boys (and girls) kicked off their set with "The Royal Scam," and then went into "Show Biz Kids," where the lead saxophonist shredded his alto sax in a manner that would have made even David Sanborn's jaw drop. The sax player's prowess continued on "Acts of Nature," when he switched to a tenor sax with some synth effects added to kick off the tune.
Then it got a bit wet.
I would have thought one of the most legendary venues in rock-and-roll would have had the stage rain-proofed years ago. Apparently not. Just as Donald Fagen and crew were easing into their fifth song, the classic, "Hey Nineteen," a mild drizzle and an easy breeze forced the iconic ensemble off the stage for 45-minutes.
At first it seemed Fagen might have been overreacting and this instinct was supported by the backstage security guard and everyone around me, who agreed they had seen many bands play through worse storms there in the past. But as I viewed the water line covering the entire front half of the stage, I deduced it was a venue design flaw and that Fagen and his fellow powered-up front-liners actually were at risk of electrocution. Especially Fagen, playing on the old school Fender Rhodes electric piano, which normally doesn't even come with a ground plug.
A few umbrellas and equipment shifts later, Steely co-founder Walter Becker took the mike and apologized for the delay as they eased the slightly more inebriated audience and now hoodie-clad back-up singers back into "Hey Nineteen."
The first few songs after the rain delay seemed a bit uncomfortable, if not "phoned in," but Becker, Fagen and company got loosened back up, and the more than willing crowd and the happily dancing security staff were soon back in a moist frenzy. A good vibe always starts with the band and the venue staff, so it was cool to see such a positive vibe flowing from all the workers there, despite the inclement weather.
The live jam element really makes a show like this, with the extended horn riffs, solos and harder live backbeats. Once the outfit rocked through "Aja", "Peg" and "FM," the earlier weather lag was long forgotten by the throng. Encores "Pretzel Logic" and "Kid Charlemagne" put the exclamation point on a great night by a legendary band, thankfully still fronted by its highly skilled founders.
A lot of bands lose their lustre and skills tend to fade over time, but Fagen, Becker and their supporting cast put on one hell of a show that, despite inclement weather, was extremely tight and done quite right. It's cool that the show went on even in the rain, but hopefully that canopy gets fixed in the off-season so none of our heroes get electrocuted and there aren't any more baseball-like rain delays keeping us from our music.
-- Jas Tynan
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I love the rain, but for the safety of the plugged-in players and for continuity of shows, Red Rocks needs to come up with a better rain canopy situation, because I'm guessing it might rain one or two more times in Colorado in the next few years. Random Detail: Opening act Joey DeFrancesco toured with Miles Davis when he was eighteen. The Phoenix-based Hammond organ player is an absolute genius. Kudos to Fagen for bringing him along on this leg of the tour. By the Way: It was good to see the entrepreneurial spirit alive, well and unfettered in the parking lot and walkway up to the entrance. Denver kicks ass.
"Hey Nineteen" from the nosebleeds
"Home at Last"
"Babylon Sisters" (look for the umbrellas)